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Pop Montreal: Wire

October 5 / Theatre Nationale (1220 Ste. Catherine E.) / With the Wedding Present

You wouldn’t believe me if I told you, but the lost 11th commandment – “thou shalt not plan a rock festival without a venerable headlining act” – is actually the most widely observed. And though they’d never admit to it, the only reason big, important rock bands ever get back together is to keep the tourism industry going.

Now joining the ranks in upholding this fine tradition are legendary post-punks Wire. Recently on tour in support of their new album, Object 47, they’ve selflessly extended their mission to our fair city, lending Burt Bacharach a hand in rescuing Pop Montreal ‘08 from the hell of vast insignificance.

For those of you unfamiliar with them – and I suspect there’s at least six of you – Wire stand as one of rock history’s most adulated bands, the kind rock snobs get off calling “quintessential,” “way ahead of their time,” and sometimes even “better than Joy Division.” But unlike other critical darlings, Wire’s colossal achievements fully warrant gushing hyperbole, having somehow tripled the breadth of punk’s sonic palette in a time-span shorter than some animal pregnancy cycles.

Recalling their career-defining streak in the late seventies, it’s bizarre to think of Wire as anything short of a merry accident, a spontaneously solipsistic apparition. Yet their origin story – four musically untrained art-kids with their fingers taped to London’s pulse feel punk coming a mile away – isn’t so reminiscent of comic books as it is of capital-H History. In other words: if Wire hadn’t been formed by these four art kids, then Wire would’ve been four others.

To my theory, their first album is a weird sort of testimony. Obviously indebted to punk’s commitment to minimalism, Pink Flag nevertheless went several steps further, stripping all the unnecessary fat off the swollen rock music they were reacting against. Where the Sex Pistols were fiercely unrestrained, Wire was tightly mechanistic, exploiting rhythm at the expense of melody, using power chords only where they were needed, and never letting them ring out when they did.

In a sense, all Wire did with Pink Flag was push punk to its logical conclusion – that this conclusion sounded as good as it did stands as a lucky accident. But if Wire’s debut was merely the outcome of history’s motions, the successive left turns they took for their next two albums are anything but.

Released only a few short months after Pink Flag, Chairs Missing saw Wire completely abandon the irreverent nihilism that held their debut together. There to fill the gap was Wire’s full embrace of a fundamental punk taboo – electronics. But where that album coated Wire’s music in synthetic ripples, 154 saw them seep right into the core of their music, culminating in a unique sound, intermittently ambient and urgent. It’s one of the masterpieces of the punk era, and our decade wouldn’t have been the same without it.

Thirty years and a few near-breakups later, it’s very tempting to throw Wire in with rest of all those washed-up dinosaurs coasting on their past achievements. But if Object 47 is any indication, they wouldn’t care even if we did. While 2003’s Send was an angry, industrial call to order, their latest effort sees Wire coming to terms with the direction they’ve pushed music in, relinquishing any further control over it, comfortable indulging in the pop forms that always underlay their music.

With Object 47, Wire have finally passed the torch. And what we can do with it that they haven’t, I have no fucking idea.

– Nicolas Boisvert-Novak